September 15, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Cornell’s Silence Was Heard on 9/11

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The most impactful event that has happened in my lifetime is one I don’t even remember. On Sept. 11, 2001, I was nearly one year old.

Any adult can tell you where they were and who they were with when the largest terrorist attack on American soil occurred. Sept. 11, 2001, is a turning point in global history, and while I was too young to remember what America was like before, I am certain that I was raised differently because of it — raised differently by my parents, raised differently by my country.

Living in Long Island, an hour outside of Manhattan, everyone around me knows somebody — or is that somebody — who was directly impacted by the World Trade Center disaster. The violence and intent on 9/11 personally assaulted every American: It attacked everything we are and everything we stand for. And for New Yorkers, and those living in the surrounding areas of Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, this notion of intimate hatred is only exacerbated by the specific location of the assaults. It was a terrorist attack in the backyard of everyone, and on the home of some.

For me, as a freshman on campus last year, 9/11 went on like any other day. Had I not paid particular attention to the date, there would have been nothing to remind me, nothing to teach me if I had not known and nothing to comfort me. For the first time since I had matriculated to Cornell, I felt completely disconnected from where I came from and, to be honest, the lack of attention was unhinging. I cannot expect everyone — or anyone at all — to have the same relationship to 9/11 that I do. And that’s okay. Humanity needs to move on. However, it is not okay to lack awareness. As an incubator of activists, future leaders and determined citizens, Cornell has the power and the obligation to promote awareness.

Now, as a sophomore, I was revisited by the distress of regularity I felt walking through campus this past 9/11. No matter how much Cornell would have done, or any institution for that matter, it would have never been enough. But surely, Cornell could have done more.

In a university that is partially state-affiliated, Cornell has a high concentration of students from the New York area — specifically, New York City and its surrounding counties — so I imagine that others may have felt a similar discomfort to the one I had experienced. Many of us grew up with in-school events to mark this anniversary: assemblies, marching-band performances, flag ceremonies and tributes by our peers, teachers and principals. More recently, extra measures are being taken as Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law that requires public schools across New York State to have a moment of silence every 9/11. It is commemorations such as these that encourage students to uphold dialogue: None of us are alone.

And on the past two Sept. 11’s that I have spent on this campus, I have felt incredibly lonely. I felt stuck and confused by the outward ease of everyone around me. I wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t know how there could be a right moment to bring up something so deeply painful. I craved a break from procedure, a sense of relatability, a sense of gratitude. Luckily, though, I did share these sentiments with my best friend, and we decided to pay our respects by visiting the 9/11 memorial in Annabel Taylor Hall. 21 Cornell alumni lost their lives. We are no different than the alumni who died, and those names could have been any single one of ours.

On a positive note, the ceremony on behalf of Cornell Democrats and Cornell Republicans shouldn’t go unmentioned. It was touching to see a bipartisan collaboration, one of the first of its kind following the attacks. In that sense, Cornell does have something to be proud of. While it’s true that America has always been divided, our wounds have only deepened in the past 18 years. We have somehow managed to let the good things disappear. The ideals that bonded Americans — our patriotism, our resilience and our devotion to freedom — are now the ideals that political parties attempt to exploit. With urgency, we, Americans, must reflect on these foundational conventions which serve to link us, and that starts with bipartisanship.

The new freshmen on campus comprise the first class of students with birthdates post-Sept. 11, 2001. This is a crucial moment where if we do not demonstrate our respect to those who sacrificed, if we do not grieve with those grieving, if we do not educate those who do not know and if we do not work to improve the lives of those who need our help now, then we will be responsible for cultivating generations where little is remembered. Students of Cornell cannot afford to forget. This is the burden of our generation.

Because this isn’t just about one day. It’s about what the world was and what it could have been, what we could have been. It is about hatred and intolerance. It is about innocent lives lost and the sacrifice of our first responders, our heroes. It is about our duty to take care of those still physically impaired and mentally traumatized. It is about our responsibility to be at the forefront of tolerance and understanding. And most of all, it is about the collapse of a united America that we need to search for again.

Next Sept. 11, let’s have more dialogue, a university-wide moment of silence and more assistance for those struggling. You are not required to participate, but the option is there. This day should not be able to go unnoticed by anyone. Members of Cornell have a responsibility not to let the good things disappear just because bad things are happening.

Odeya Rosenband is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Guest Room appears periodically this semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected].